Early voting began on Friday in Washington, and ballots should start showing up in your mailbox in the next few days.
This year, the presidential race has been brutal and nasty. I’m personally backing a third party candidate, but I know many are seriously considering leaving the President and Vice President slots on their ballot blank. I sympathize with them, even though I don’t fully understand their choice.
Regardless of where you stand on the presidential election, though, one thing should be indisputable for all American voters, and that is that the down ballot matters.
The message of this post is simple – don’t forget the rest of your ballot. Vote the down ballot, and get informed about the down ballot.
First, vote the rest of your ballot.
You might hate both Trump and Clinton, and you might sit out the presidential election because of that. But please, fill out the rest of your ballot anyway.
Our system of government is intentionally designed to have multiple parts. Each part is supposed to balance the others. The states and the federal government are supposed to serve as checks upon each other. Within the federal and state governments, the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches all serve to balance the powers of the other branches.
That’s why the down ballot races matter.
If you love Trump or Hillary, there should be no question about the down ballot. Vote up and down the ballot for candidates that you have researched, that you believe to be fit for the office they’re running for, and that align to your political positions.
But the down ballot especially matters if you detest the major presidential nominees. Down ballot races are damage control. Voting third party is great – I’m supporting a third party candidate. But third party presidential votes have historically been relatively insignificant in terms of real world impact after the election. In contrast, voting in down ballot races has real potential to affect the direction of the next few years.
The Senate matters. Any Supreme Court nominees must be approved by the Senate. If you care about the Supreme Court, you should vote for a Senate candidate (if your state has a Senate race this year). Any treaties that the President negotiates must be approved by the Senate. If you care about foreign policy, vote in your state’s Senate race.
The House of Representatives matters. Any bills drawing money out of the Treasury must originate in the House. If you care about where your tax money goes, you should vote for your representative.
Congress as a whole matters. Congress has the legislative power – that means that Congress is responsible for creating laws and setting policy. Not the President. In a sense, which party controls Congress matters even more than who sits in the Oval office.
And if you really, truly, absolutely detest both Trump and Clinton, remember this. The House initiates impeachment proceedings, and the Senate is responsible for trying the President during an impeachment.
Second, become informed about the rest of your ballot.
Don’t simply fill in the bubbles for all of the Republican candidates, or all of the Democratic candidates, or all of the Libertarian candidates, depending on your party affiliation.
That plan can really backfire on you. In Washington, and many other states, any candidate can indicate any party affiliation they want, regardless of their policies and beliefs. The party has no control over the party affiliation on the ballot. A progressive big-government liberal could run as a Libertarian, or a religious right candidate could run as a Democrat, and if you’re uninformed, you wouldn’t know the difference.
Even when a candidate is party-endorsed, there may be an independent reason to vote against them. If voters don’t research their candidates, a pro-life Libertarian may unwittingly vote for a Libertarian candidate that supports abortion. A free trade Republican may unwittingly vote for a Republican candidate who supports tariffs. A Democrat who believes that all drugs should be legalized may unwittingly vote for a Democrat who believes exactly the opposite.
In addition, Washington has an open primary system, like some other states. That means that two candidates professing the same party affiliation may both win the primary election, which means that both names on your ballot may have the same letter next to them. Washington has a race for statewide office like that this year. If you didn’t do your homework, you would have no idea which candidate to vote for.
Voting strictly by party may get you off the hook on the partisan offices. That’s a really big if. But suppose it does. If you’re uninformed, you will still get stuck when it comes to the nonpartisan offices.
In Washington, those are mostly judges, including state supreme court justices. The importance of the judiciary system cannot be overstated. If you value the issue of abortion or life, however you choose to frame it, vote for judges. If you value religious liberty, vote for judges. If you value equality, vote for judges. If you value a fair and impartial court system, vote for judges.
Of course, there are also other nonpartisan elected offices. Do your homework and vote in those races as well.
As an American, you have the right and privilege of voting for officials at all levels of government. Don’t use that right irresponsibly – do your homework and cast an informed ballot.
Header photo originally from 80 Couches. Used under the fair use doctrine for nonprofit educational purposes.